In 2012, this important Constitutional challenge was filed by Applicants Steven Simons, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network, Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network, and Catie. The case was adjourned in September 2018 after the Attorney General of Canada attempted to have it dismissed. In December 2019, our counsel Dan Sheppard (of Goldblatt Partners LLP), will explain to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice how a refusal to permit effective access to prison needle exchange programs will disproportionately and unconstitutionally harm individuals along lines of sex, race, and “disability”—in particular, women, Indigenous people, and people who use drugs.
There is abundant evidence demonstrating the efficacy of prison needle exchange programs, which minimize the need to re-use, share, or create makeshift syringes and in turn help prevent the spread of bloodborne infections. A refusal to ensure their effective implementation is entirely at odds with the public health approach to drug use that our federal government has publicly touted since 2016, not to mention Canada’s international human rights obligations, which put a duty on government to protect the health of all prisoners—in part through providing essential healthcare. The fact that the Liberal government has already implemented prison needle exchange programs in two federal institutions suggests that this case and the efforts of advocates involved in it are succeeding. But it is not enough. The roll out of services is too slow and we share the Applicants’ grave concerns about the effectiveness and adequacy of these particular programs. Learn more about the case here: www.prisonhealthnow.ca/
On International Overdose Awareness Day, we remember and fight for those we have lost to a senseless war on drugs
We demand evidence-based solutions, not fear-based drug policy!
Drug prohibition has utterly failed in its aims. People will always use drugs; but with virtually no access to a safe and regulated drug supply, they risk death by toxic policy. As governments across the world pledge allegiance to the failed War on Drugs, we grieve thousands. We cannot support a system that drives drug use further underground, frustrates access to critical health services, churns poor and racialized people through a violent criminal justice system, and continues to ignore the valid reasons why people use drugs. Our work is based on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and cannot separate this toxic policy from the violence of settler-colonialism.Read more
On International Overdose Awareness Day, Pivot Legal Society calls on the British Columbia provincial government to take steps towards decriminalizing simple drug possession.
On April 1, 2019, the Director of Public Prosecutions directed federal Crown prosecutors to minimize detentions for breaches of bail conditions, in part by no longer imposing the following bail conditions on people experiencing addiction:
- ‘Abstinence’ conditions, which criminalize people who possess and use illicit drugs;
- Prohibitions on carrying ‘drug paraphernalia’, including pipes and syringes, which impede access to life-saving harm reduction equipment and healthcare; and
- Area restrictions (or “red zones”), which banish people from the spaces, services, and communities they rely on.
Bail conditions are court orders imposed on people who are charged with an offence, but who are not incarcerated. While conditions are intended to address the particular circumstances of an accused and the offence at issue, the majority of people we work with are subject to broad “behavioural conditions” designed to control their everyday activities. For example, someone charged with a drug-related offence might be released on bail with conditions that they not possess drugs or even the drug paraphernalia (harm reduction equipment) that allows for safer use. Someone charged with an offence might also be “red zoned”—or prohibited from being in a geographic area, oftentimes a city block or an entire neighbourhood, and the services located within. As one participant put it:
[The red zone is] where all your services are. That’s where your food is, that’s where your doctors are, that’s where mental health is, that’s where the library is, that’s where your harm reduction is… That’s where basically any kind of service for street people or homeless or low income [people], that’s where it is.
For people living at the intersections of homelessness, drug use, and class-based oppression, these bail conditions make daily activities and interactions more dangerous and near-impossible. Bail conditions have a particularly negative impact on Indigenous and Black communities, who are already subject to over-policing.Read more
At Federal Court of Canada, Pivot Legal Society and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition successfully defend access to harm reduction and health care
(Photo credit: Peter Kim | From leftt to right: Pivot Legal staff lawyer Caitlin Shane and Monique Pongracic-Speier, QC, of Ethos Law Group LLP at Federal Court of Canada | December 10, 2018)
This past February, the Honourable Justice Richard Mosley rendered his judgement on a judicial review application to challenge three Health Canada-approved supervised consumption sites in downtown Edmonton. At issue were the competing interests and concerns of the Chinatown and Area Business Association (CABA) and people who use drugs whose lives and safety depends on accessing health care.
Community groups opposed to life-saving supervised consumption have long been a barrier to setting up these sites across Canada, which are already inundated with numerous bureaucratic and political roadblocks. We felt it was critical to appear before the Court on this matter to explain why supervised consumption is an imperative health service that cannot be dictated by community opinions and fears rooted in stigma.
That is why we represented the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) as an intervenor in CABA’s legal challenge—a challenge based on the unfounded notion that it was not adequately consulted in the Minister’s decision to approve these health services. Our lawyer Caitlin Shane and Ethos Law Group’s Monique Pongracic-Speier (QC) argued on behalf of the CDPC that under the law, third party non-applicants are not entitled to “procedural fairness” in the case of supervised consumption site approvals. In other words, a community organization is not owed the right to weigh in on such matters because they are principally health care decisions.Read more
Pivot Legal Society and Canadian Drug Policy Coalition successfully defend supervised consumption at Federal Court of Canada
For Immediate Release
February 28, 2019
The precedent-setting decision protects public health and harm reduction efforts from unnecessary barriers and interference from third parties
Vancouver, BC – This week, the Honourable Justice Mosley released his decision on a judicial review application brought forward by Edmonton’s Chinatown and Area Business Association (CABA). CABA challenged the approval of three desperately-needed supervised consumption sites in downtown Edmonton, asserting that it was not adequately consulted in Health Canada’s decision to approve the services.
In December 2018, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC), represented by Pivot Legal Society’s Caitlin Shane and Ethos Law Group’s Monique Pongracic-Speier (QC), intervened in the case, arguing that CABA and other third parties do not have a mandatory right to weigh in on the approval of consumption sites in Canada. Instead, public health and safety should be the principal concern of the government in considering applications, as this would best protect the Constitutional rights to safety and security for people who use drugs accessing life-saving services.Read more
Project Inclusion: BC’s income support programs, shelters, and hospitals exist to serve people in need. But across the province, people are experiencing barriers to accessing income assistance, they’re shut out of shelters, and stigma and racism are surfacing in how they are treated in hospitals. These are public services that should serve the public good, but their inaccessibility is putting the health, safety, and human rights of marginalized people at risk. [Read more]
Pivot Legal Society applauds Supreme Court of Canada decision to strike down mandatory victim fine surcharge
For Immediate Release
December 14, 2018
Vancouver, BC – In a 7 to 2 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the mandatory victim fine surcharge. Pivot Legal Society applauds this decision, which will alleviate the unjust and cruel penalty previously imposed on members of marginalized communities, including in the Downtown Eastside.
In April 2018, Pivot Legal Society, along with lawyers Graham Kosakoski, Naomi Moses (Rosenberg Law), and DJ Larkin intervened in the case to argue that a mandatory victim fine surcharge amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court decision directly referenced our submissions and indicated:
"therefore [the surcharge] violates Section 12 of the charter, because its impact and effects create circumstances that are grossly disproportionate to what would otherwise be a fit sentence, outrage the standards of decency, and are both abhorrent and intolerable."Read more
Pivot Legal Society and Canadian Drug Policy Coalition defend access to harm reduction at Federal Court of Canada
For Immediate Release
December 10, 2018
A precedent-setting legal challenge that could affect harm reduction efforts across Canada
(Photo credit: Peter Kim | Pivot Legal drug policy lawyer Caitlin Shane and Monique Pongracic-Speier, QC, Ethos Law Group LLP at Federal Court of Canada | December 10, 2018)
Edmonton, AB – Today Caitlin Shane, Pivot Legal Society’s drug policy lawyer, and Monique Pongracic-Speier, QC, of Ethos Law Group LLP, argued on behalf of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) to protect public health and the Charter rights (Section 7 right to life, liberty, and security of the person) of people who require supervised consumption services.
In October, Edmonton’s Chinatown and Area Business Association brought forward a legal challenge (judicial review) to Health Canada’s approval of supervised consumption services in downtown Edmonton, arguing it was not adequately consulted in the decision. If the challenge is successful, the decision could impact how supervised consumption sites across Canada are approved; namely, by adding unacceptable delays to the provision of life-saving health services.Read more
Pivot is representing the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (intervenor) and defending the rights of people who use drugs to have access to life-saving health care. The judicial review hearing is happening in Edmonton, where a local business association is trying to stop the opening of a supervised consumption site that has been approved by Health Canada. This interference, and the delay of health services it would create, infringes upon the Section 7 Charter right to security of the person. Third parties do not have a mandatory right to weigh in to what are ultimately health care decisions, and we will ensure the federal court understands this.